Although it could have remained a private family home, after his passing Dr Sami Makarem’s children had a broader, more altruistic vision – to transform this 17th century abode into a Cultural Centre and Museum, opening its doors to the public, to share the history, heritage, art and literature of their renowned father and grandfather.
A tour of the Center with our genial host, Samir Makarem is truly a trip back in time – a journey through history, art, literature and beauty.
Brightly colored bougainvillea guards the entrance to the Castle, welcoming visitors to its spacious grounds.
Dotted among the laneways are lavender and lemon verbena, leading out to tree-lined clearings, where you’ll likely find a hammock or two for lazy afternoon catnaps. The trees, perhaps, are almost as old as the building it cradles.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll be met by an abundance of fruit-laden pomegranate trees, and a massive hand-made molasses-making operation underway in the beautiful blue weatherboard cabin, built within the trees.
The garden houses an obligatory rustic treehouse, offering a hideway for the adventurous.
Nearing the castle’s entrance, are recently crafted metal sculptures, works of art in themselves, displaying the calligraphic designs of Sami Makarem.
And as you enter, look down and you’ll notice the hand-made encaustic floor tiles.
“My father had these tiles made 40 years ago, and stored them in the cellar, we found them recently so we decided to lay them in small sections around the property, where they could be seen,” said Samir Makarem. (photos below)
There are many sections within the building, many passages leading to lofty rooms, and also to cosy nooks and crannies.
But this is not your typical “Don’t Touch!” museum.
“We wanted to present the Museum as a traditional home – the home of Sami Makarem – as it was when it was lived in – so visitors can sit down, relax and enjoy the artwork and ambience,” says Samir.
The interior is indeed a work of art – beautifully restored stone archways, leadlight windows, traditional furnishings, memorabilia from the family’s travels, and historical records.
Samir Makarem shows us the artistry of his grandfather Sheikh Nassib Makarem, an unparalleled master of the art of traditional Arabic Calligraphy. There is even a newspaper article detailing Sheikh Nassib’s exhibit at the New York Fair in 1939.
“It was a big event – the equivalent of the Dubai 2020 Expo,” says Samir.
In another room, we see the progression of calligraphic styles of Sami Makarem. His early, traditional work, and his later, renegade designs.
Dotted amongst these masterpieces, are the works of Samir’s twin brother, Nassib, whose style leans more towards the later works of his father. Samir Makarem is a reluctant artist, describing his style as “geometric surrealism”.
The family is planning to hold a three-generation exhibition in June 2020.
Beyond this salon, a beautiful courtyard is home to ancient myrtle berry trees, and the whimsical floral artworks of Sami Makarem’s daughter, Rand.
Onwards and upwards, we arrive at the next level, where renovations for the library and reading room are in progress. There is memorabilia – a charcoal partrait – from the Abu Shakra family, Julia Makarem’s maternal relatives.
Within lies the typewriter on which Julia Makarem typed her husband’s thesis in Michigan, in 1963.
“It’s a never-ending project,” says Samir Makarem.